Supporting Ukrainian refugees in the UK: RefuAid's Kate Higgins explains how ELT centres can help
We have been overwhelmed by the generous offers from English UK members keen to help Ukrainian refugees improve their English skills.
For many, the best way to do this will be through our partnership with RefuAid. RefuAid supports refugees and asylum seekers to continue their education or career with structured support and English classes, usually leading to IELTS or OET. Around a hundred English UK members have offered free courses to RefuAid clients since 2015, many of them on an ongoing basis.
This month, we spoke to RefuAid's Chief Operating Officer Kate Higgins about how the organisation is adapting its offer to meet the additional need.
She and CEO Anna Jones travelled to Warsaw in March to understand the situation better, and found that while people were initially keen to return to Ukraine as soon as possible, they are now looking at longer-term options including where to settle, find employment and support themselves and their families.
RefuAid has been working with three organisations in Warsaw to provide information about the UK schemes on offer and support them through visa applications, hosting, travel and logistics, with post-arrival support for English language and employment. Kate says: "Throughout it all, we've been so struck by the resilience and positivity of everyone we met. Despite having experienced so much trauma in such a short space of time and in many situations having had to leave family members behind, the determination to focus on rebuilding careers and restarting education is inspiring."
"People are just starting to arrive on family visas", says Kate, but she is expecting demand for RefuAid's services to rise in coming months once the Homes for Ukraine visa holders begin to arrive. "At the moment, our main focus is to continue providing support via our pre-existing programmes, which includes language, accessible finance, requalification and meaningful employment."
"Regardless of where people are from or the reason they have claimed asylum, we have found that their priorities are resoundingly to: find somewhere safe and private to live, to provide any children with access to education and to be able to live independently and with dignity by earning an income. At RefuAid, enabling this will always be a key driver of the work that we do."
What is the language level you're finding among Ukrainians?
"Language levels are incredibly varied; some individuals we are working with are fluent and have either studied or worked in predominantly English-speaking environments, whilst others are much lower level and have had very little engagement with the English language.
"This is why English language support is so vital to those who are arriving in the UK; it's the gateway to integration, education and employment. We are therefore looking to rapidly scale up our Language: A Gateway programme to ensure we can meet the inevitable increase in demand. We are already seeing applications from Ukrainians come through and anticipate this to continue increasing over the coming weeks and months."
Are Ukrainians likely to be living in different or more widespread areas than refugees and asylum seekers arriving from other countries?
"Over 250,000 hosts have generously offered their homes as part of the Homes for Ukraine scheme, and the location of these varies from cities to remote borders. This highlights the need for diverse study methods, including face-to-face lessons and online provision."
What degree of need are you anticipating?
"It is likely that our Language: A Gateway programme is going to be a vital resource for many people, whether they are already proficient and just require some tailored language tuition, or whether they are beginners in need of a more intensive course.
"For those who are already fluent and are seeking to continue their careers, RefuAid will work closely with employers across the UK to ensure people are able to apply for roles that are commensurate with their skills, experiences and qualifications. In recent weeks we have established a business consortium, which is made up of a number of UK-based employers, all of whom have pledged to offer language and employment opportunities. Encouragingly, this support extends to anyone who has claimed asylum in the UK, not just those who have fled Ukraine, which is incredibly welcome at a time when over 80 million people have been forcibly displaced across the globe."
Are you hoping to be able to offer help to a larger number of refugees during the coming months?
"We are in the process of scaling up all of our current programmes to meet demand, which is continuing to increase. Prior to the invasion of Ukraine, our waiting list was in the thousands, and we were working to support those individuals who had been evacuated from Afghanistan and are living in hotels across the country (which is around 12,000 people).
"Thanks to the generosity of the EFL sector and businesses across the UK, we're looking forward to increasing our capacity fairly quickly. Right now, we have over 250 students studying on our language programme and we are looking to increase capacity to 1000 over the coming year. We'd therefore love to hear from any English UK members who can support with this expansion in any way."
Kate added: "We're so incredibly grateful for the generosity of the English UK members we work with, and we're excited to continue expanding our support with other members.
"Our priority remains to secure OET, IELTS and General English classes for all of our students; a priority which will remain the same as our capacity increases. Both online and face-to-face courses are a fantastic resource to our clients, as it enables us to support as many people as possible and facilitate learning in a way that suits each individual's circumstances."
Is there anything else the ELT sector can do to help?
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"Alongside our programme with English language schools, we do also offer one-to-one tuition via our volunteer tutor programme. Should any teachers wish to volunteer their time and expertise, they can find out more at refuaid.org/tutor
RefuAid and English UK
- English UK works in partnership with RefuAid.
- RefuAid partners with UK language teaching centres to give their clients access to the language teaching they need to pass IELTS or OET exams, allowing them to continue their careers or education in the UK. The charity also provides loans enabling clients to get the UK accreditation and training they need to return to work.
- More than 80 English UK centres have supported over 600 RefuAid clients to get the IELTS or OET qualification they needed since the charity was founded in 2015.
- RefuAid needs more centres to offer free places to its clients. If you can help, visit RefuAid for more information about becoming a partner school.